This Is a Thinly Disguised Post About Potties in Foreign Lands

>> Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The question everyone keeps asking me is, "How was Egypt?" 

If that is the burning question on your mind, and you really want an answer, check here.  Yes, I actually wrote a serious piece for a change.  (*gasp!*)  Hey, it happens.  If you comment a lot over there, or actually decide to follow, I might do it again some day.  You never know.

On the other hand, plenty of funny things happened in Egypt. 

We sailed on the river in a feluka boat, while my niece insisted on splashing me with Nile water.  It was hot, and the crocodiles are now all south of the Aswan dams, so I didn't mind.  In fact, I splashed back.  My mother, sitting between us, was not as amused.

On that self same boat, I learned that feluka boat sailors may not know a lot of English, but they know some mighty odd verses to, "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain."  Either it's a tourist joke to sing them, or they have less of a taboo on singing about recreational drugs.  I'm thinking it's both.  Either that or drugs, like bathroom humor, are international lines of communication.  I'm not really sure about that.

When I was in southern France back in the late 90's (oh dear; was it really that long ago?), I found bathrooms to be a challenge.  Guys may not have an objection to turkish style, but girls can only manage it if they can take off their shorts, underwear, shoes, and socks, and then only if they can find a clean place to put them and can manage to squat without touching anything.  A single solitary daypack on the shoulders can disrupt this delicate balance.  (As an aside, the most welcome potties I ever found were those beneath the Eiffel Tower.  Sure, you paid for the pleasure of using them, but they were sparkling clean and no squatting was required.  Whew!)  On the other hand, in Egypt, I saw no sign of a Turkish potty-room.  I saw some pretty scary ones I was afraid to walk into (and didn't -- we had an emergency potty on the bus for those days), but no turkish style.  Egyptian women are much too insistent on equal potty-access, I think, to allow such a disaster.  Either that or the tourist board has figured out that a successful tourist industry requires at least basic facilities.  Regardless, my options always included a flush toilet and generally a bidet.  Toilet paper, on the other hand, must very often be purchased at the door, from the attendant, at roughly the price of 5-6 squares for one Egyptian Pound.  The trick is that the Egyptian Pound is a rather rare denomination in the currency, and those little suckers are hard to come by.  Of course, since you aren't really paying for the toilet paper, but instead are paying a "tip" for the person to hand it to you, there is no such thing as change.  If all you have with you is a five pound note, you'd better bring four friends to the potty.  (Side note:  if for some reason the bathroom is already equipped with toilet paper, then your tip is for the privilege of having the bathroom attendant provide you with three sheets of toilet paper with which you may dry your hands.  Let me just say that toilet paper works about as well for hand drying as you might imagine it does.)

Of course, such a system gives rise to two of the fundamental pillars of the tourist society in Egypt.  One, if you have the toilet paper, the tissues, or the difficult-to-obtain pound coins in your pocket, you are the most popular person on your bus.  Two, among all foreigners in line for the bathroom, whether part of your tour group or not, or even whether speaking your language or not, a well-placed coin or pack of tissues can buy you a friend for life. 

The third fundamental pillar of travelling in Egypt is related, but is not caused by the bathroom system.  The third fundamental pillar of travelling in Egypt is this:  Those with hand sanitzer in the pocket have many, many friends, especially immediately outside the bathrooms.  Here is a free tip, though.  You may, wish to leave the alcohol-based sanitizer in the hotel room when travelling in the summer, and stick with the lotion ones instead.  An entire pocket bottle of sanitizer can evaporate in the Valley of the Kings in a day during a heat wave.

Now, there I go again.  I've been trying to avoid being the "potty mouthed blogger," forever regaling her audience with stories of boys and their inability to aim.  Instead, I've apparently begun a training manual for bathroom breaks in developing countries (and France).  I can't help it.  If you have spent any significant amount of time "going native" in any foreign country, I think you will agree that the most humorous, potentially aggravating, and potentially trip-ruining parts of any vacation are the ability to access the bathing and evacuation facilities without major upheaval.  If you think I'm making this up, or if you think this phenomenon is limited to Americans, let me tell you a quick story. 

Almost every time I have been to England, someone along the way asks me two questions.  One, "Why do Americans ask to go to the 'bathroom' or 'restroom' instead of the 'toilet?'  You don't bathe in there, and you certainly aren't resting."  My response is generally something like, "Why do English want to call it a water closet?  You aren't drinking water."  Two, "Is it true that in America, the hot water and the cold water taps are always in the same order on the sink?"  Yes, yes it is true.  Hot is on the left, and cold is on the right here.  I have burned my fingers and frozen my hands enough times to confirm that this system is not in place all around the world.

Once, a long, long time ago, a couple of friends and I thought the world might need a book called, "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Bathroom."  We were, strangely enough, a little bit obsessed with the book of similar title by Douglas Adams, "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."  I am certain I do not remember all that we were going to put in the book, but I am certain I recall that there would be a chapter on what to do if the toilet you encounter had a pull chain dangling from the ceiling.  Most of our chapter ideas arose from a trip "down under" to a couple of countries that had a civilized system that nonetheless could prove confusing to the novice tourist.  After this latest trip, I think I might suggest to my younger self and her friends that a chapter on how to tell a bidet-lever from a toilet-flusher might be a useful addition.  I also would say, all these years later, that the concept of this book is still a good one, and, if properly written, would probably become a back packer's staple like multi-purpose soap and the sleep sheet.  (If you write it, and make a million, at least make mention of this blog in your preface, okay?)

Well, for those of you that cannot stand the bathroom humor, I think I've tortured you sufficiently for now.  Oddly enough, I share your ooginess.  Bathroom humor is like taking a loud redneck to the White House Christmas party.  Everyone knows it's there, but no one wants to talk about it, and the person that brought it wants to cringe in shame.  But, as I said after this 4th of July weekend when I had four people sleeping in a tent in my back yard, and another four sleeping in a camper in the side yard, "You can take the girl out of redneck country, but you just can't take the redneck out of the girl."

Yee haw, y'all.


Dazee Dreamer July 6, 2010 at 11:14 AM  

I love bathroom humor. hell, I love any type of humor. keep it up.

French Bean & Coffee Bean July 6, 2010 at 1:27 PM  

I, too, have had my experiences with French toilets (or lack of). Thanks for the warning about Egyptian potties.

-French Bean

Karin Kysilka July 6, 2010 at 1:57 PM  

Dazee, I'm afraid I can't help myself.

Hey, there, French Bean. I'm glad I'm not the only one to remember French non-toilets with ... non-fondness. Yes, let's go with that.

Brenda July 6, 2010 at 4:12 PM  

You've read my blog. It would have to be a lot worse potty humor to faze me!

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